Email preheaders are important aspects of successful email marketing campaigns. In just a few words, they inform recipients about what an email contains and why they should care. 

Along with the subject line, the preheader text is all a recipient sees when your email arrives in their inbox. For that reason, they make a big impact on whether or not a recipient clicks on the email or clicks “Move to Trash.” 

In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know to understand preheaders and how to write preheaders that work.

Understanding email preheaders

An email preheader is the brief line of text that appears after the email subject line in an inbox. Preheaders are usually only a sentence long and give a preview of the email contents. Along with the email headline or subject line, email preheaders let your recipients know what your email is about and why they should open it. 

In inboxes, email subject lines are displayed right after the sender’s name. They tell recipients what the mail is about, usually in a few words comprised of less than 40 characters. Email preheaders are slightly longer, giving you more room to convince your subscribers that your email is worth their time. 

Most email providers have an email preheader character limit of up to 130 characters. Anything longer doesn’t show in the inbox. It’s best to keep them between 30 and 80 characters so that all your text is viewable whether your recipient sees it on their desktop computer or smartphone. To keep character counts low, try summarizing the gist of your email instead of every specific topic included in your content.

Email preheader display in the Gmail inbox on desktop.
This image shows how preheaders appear in Gmail inboxes. The preheader is the text appearing to the right of the subject line. Image Source: C. Edward Morgan

When preheaders are engaging, personal, and just-the-right-size they can increase open rates by:

  • Capturing attention
  • Piquing curiosity
  • Improving accessibility 

In other words, your email preheader is your chance to stand out in your subscribers’ inboxes. They’re relevant to any marketing email you could send, from welcome emails to drip campaigns. If you don’t use email preheaders, you miss an opportunity to optimize your email campaign. 

Not using preheaders could even work against your campaign. When your email lacks a preheader, most email services automatically generate preheader text between your outbox and your recipient’s inbox. That auto-generated text won’t be as relevant as the one you write, and could actually make recipients less likely to open your email.

Email preheader strategies

Crafting engaging email preheaders that get your subscribers to open your emails is essential. Simply using them isn’t enough — you must use them effectively.

Refrain from cramming every topic you discuss in your email into your preheader. An email preheader is all about striking a perfect balance between being informative and being brief. The point of summarizing is so your busy recipients know that your email is worth their time, so it should be detailed enough to answer why they should open it.

As an example, say you run an online blogging platform and you’re sending emails to your users about their options for viewing stats for their blog content. You might list specific stats in the email body and tell your readers how the data is useful to them. The preheader might be something as simple as “View your most important blog metrics.”

To optimize the power of email preheaders, keep the following strategies in mind:

  • Build anticipation: Excitement, suspense, urgency — these are all emotions you can play to in your preheader. Don’t simply say, “Our year-end sale starts tomorrow.” Instead, let readers know why that’s a big deal. Maybe the sale is “Your chance to shop the year’s biggest deals!” Maybe there’s a time consideration so recipients “Better hurry! Our best sale of the year ends tomorrow!” 
  • Include a call to action (CTA): The call to action tells your recipient how to act on the information you’re sending. You’ll reiterate your CTA in the email body, but your preheader is a great place to plant the send. It doesn’t take much. For example, a simple “Claim your discount” is all it takes to let the recipient know the value of your email.

Best practices for email preheaders

Now that you understand what preheaders are, why they’re useful, and how to use them effectively, let’s go over some standard best practices. There are a few points you should consider when writing preheaders to maximize their benefits. 

  • Use preheaders to complement subject lines: The preheader and subject line should feature complementary information without being redundant. Use the preheader to elaborate on what you suggest in the subject line.
  • Use techniques to create curiosity: You can use humor, mystery, CTAs, and other tools to make recipients curious about what your email contains and increase the chances they’ll read it. 
  • Use personalization to boost engagement: Personalization is a fundamental aspect of email marketing. Modern consumers expect marketing emails to be geared toward their needs and interests. 
  • Use emojis — but don’t overuse them: You can use emojis in preheaders. But be wary: Too many emojis could be read as unprofessional, and they might not render consistently from inbox to inbox. 

Technical aspects of email preheaders

Emails have a lot of parts. It can be challenging to understand the purpose of each or how they differ. We’ve already discussed some of the differences between email preheaders and subject lines. Now, let’s talk about the differences between preheaders and preview text.

Preview text is a snippet of the email that appears below the subject line and the preheader. It’s text from the email body — depending on the viewing device and other factors, it could be the first few lines of the email or just the salutation. 

You can use HTML code to customize how your preheaders appear in your email. Coded preheaders instruct the email service provider to display your preheader as the first line of the email in the inbox, then exclude it from the email body when the recipient opens it. To do this:

  • Use your preheader as the first line of the body tag
  • Put the preheader text in div style
  • Code the div style to hide the preheader text

Using HTML code in preheaders can be tricky, given how complicated email development can be. That’s why many companies use a third-party email marketing platform like Constant Contact. Tools like email templates, email marketing ideas, and an easy-to-use interface make designing emails with effective preheaders simple and straightforward. 

How to create a preheader in Outlook

The way you create preheaders varies from platform to platform. When you’re crafting emails using Outlook, the first step is to type the preheader into the body of the email. Then, click on the “File” tab and choose “Options” from the drop-down menu. Click “Mail” and then “Compose messages.” You’ll see the button labeled “Editor options.” Click and navigate to the “Advanced” tab, then click “Show document content.” Select the option marked “Show field codes.” 

Once you’ve selected “Show filed codes,” click your cursor into the email body at the end of your preheader. Then find the “Insert” tab and select “Quick parts,” followed by “Field.” Under “Field names” you should see the button for “Document property.” Click on it. Set the “Field properties” option to “Title” and then click “OK” to confirm your selection. 

How to create a preheader in Gmail

Using coded preheaders, as described above, is the only way to create a preheader in Gmail.

Writing effective email preheaders

Writing effective email preheaders is easy when you know the top tips and tricks for composing them and when you follow general email marketing best practices. The first thing is optimizing preheaders so that they work with your subject to spark the recipient’s interest. 

  • Play to the recipient’s FOMO (fear of missing out): The preheader is an excellent place to suggest what the recipient stands to lose by not opening your email. Nobody wants to miss out on a big sale, a limited-time discount, or the opportunity to receive free shipping. Play into that FOMO in your preheader with something like, “You only have two more days to claim your 20% off code before it’s gone for good.” 
  • Include humor: Making your customers laugh can increase engagement, but it isn’t the easiest thing to do in 80 or so characters. To craft preheaders that tickle funny bones, use wordplay and simple puns for jokes that are brief and attention-grabbing.
  • Building curiosity vs just summarizing: Remember that your summaries should build curiosity. Yes, you want to give your recipients information, but you don’t want to give them so much that they feel like the email doesn’t have more to offer.

Mistakes to avoid in email preheaders 

Knowing the best practices for composing effective email preheaders is one thing. You should also be aware of the most common mistakes people make when drafting preheaders. By avoiding them yourself, you ensure that your marketing emails look professional and trustworthy. In the long run, this can help fuel the success of your email marketing campaigns. 

Here are some common email preheader “don’ts” that people often make: 

  • Don’t omit the preheader: It’s always best to include a preheader in your marketing emails. Otherwise, your email provider may generate its own, which could be something like: “Having trouble viewing this email?” That’s not a very engaging market slogan.
  • Don’t double-up on the subject line: Always make sure that your preheader text is distinct from the subject line text. This looks better in the inbox and boosts the credibility of your email. It also keeps you from wasting valuable preheader real estate.
  • Don’t mention unsubscribing: You should give your recipients the option to easily remove themselves from your list, but again, not in the preheader. Nothing says “We give up” quite as much as a preheader that reads, “Click here to unsubscribe.” Additionally, getting express permission by asking for email addresses can keep recipients from clicking “Unsubscribe.”
  • Don’t skip the CTA:  Preheaders deserve the same consideration as other aspects of your email marketing campaign. This includes giving them compelling CTAs that encourage recipients to open the email. Don’t leave them out.
  • Don’t cram in characters: Remember to keep your preheaders concise. By observing character limits, you ensure that your intended text is visible across email clients.

Email preheader examples

Let’s look at a few examples of email preheaders that inform, engage, and look professional when viewed in inboxes. 

Squarespace preheader text example
Squarespace masters the balance between brevity and information in their preheaders. Image Source: C. Edward Morgan

These emails from Squarespace are great examples of using preheaders to summarize the email, complement the subject line, and encourage the recipient to open the email. In fewer than 10 words, the preheaders tell us exactly what’s in the email. Plus, the preheaders are built on the subject lines. For example, in the first email, we can tell that it contains resources meant to inspire you as you build your website.

Adobe preheader text example
Adobe builds anticipation with conversational preheader text that boosts excitement. Image Source: C. Edward Morgan

In this example, Adobe uses the subject line to create a sense of urgency and incentivize the recipient. In the preheader, they drum up excitement, suggesting great discounts and useful apps.

The future of email preheaders

We’ve gone over a lot of preheader information, from what they are to why they work to the best practices for using them. As you’re using them in your campaigns, be creative to spark interest and keep the best practices in mind.